At El Pilar, “peace is a prerequisite.” Dr. Anabel Ford and the Institute of Archaeology (NICH) Belize would certainly agree.
“Archaeology doesn’t have borders. The borders that existed in the past, might not be the borders that exist in the future, and in the present.” — Hon. Courtney Abel
Excerpt from Channel 7 News:
On Friday’s news, we took you deep into the Annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium. That’s where the local and international academics converge every year for to discuss the work they’ve been doing along side NICH. And while the symposium had them sitting in a conference hall, their work is in the field, digging in the dirt for clues to the ancient past.
But, one archaeologist’s work on an ancient site is very connected to the present. That’s Dr. Anabel Ford, who discovered the El Pilar Site in the early 80’s and has been working there for at least three decades. Located 7 miles west of Bullet Tree Falls village, this site sits in both Belizean and Guatemalan territory.
The work of Dr. Ford and her team is somewhat complicated by the politics surrounding Belize Guatemala cross-border relations. But for years, she’s been able to navigate the often tricky cross border politics to restore and preserve this very important Maya site.
And, yesterday, she even got a number of Ambassadors, Government officials, an OAS Observer, and even a Supreme Court judge to go trekking through bad road, bad weather, and deep into the jungle just for a special ceremony.
Our news team had a front-row seat for the 5 hour long event, and Daniel Ortiz reports:
Daniel Ortiz reporting: A number of VIP’s, including the Mexican Ambassador, the Taiwanese Ambassador, Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel, and the BTIA Executive Director, converged on the El Pilar Archaeological Site for a very special event called “Katun El Pilar”. “Katun”, the Mayan word for 20, is being used in this particular campaign because the archaeologists are presenting their vision for the El Pilar Site for the next 20 years.
For El Pilar, there are a number of unique features, including the canopy of the Mayan Forest, and the fact that it sits on the border between Belize and Guatemala. Lead Archaeologist, Dr. Anabel Ford, who’s been working on this bi-national monument for more than 30 years, hopes to preserve those two features.
Dr. Anabel Ford – El Pilar Expert: “We’ve just finished “Katun”, which is Maya for 20, and we have decades. We count with just our hands, but they do hands and feet. That’s 20, and the next 20 years, we want to see a new kind of community come around realizing that the Maya Forest protects our ground water; it provides food for food sovereignty, and that it will be part of the agenda to build strategies for climate change, to tackle that problem.”
Cynthia Ellis Topsey – Researcher, El Pilar: “Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to this awesome historic event at El Pilar, one of the most wonderful sites in Belize and in the world. Here you will experience archaeology under the canopy, and we’re celebrating, having having fun, with people from all walks of life, and from all over the world.”
Daniel Ortiz: “We understand that there is a unique aspect to El Pilar in that it has a Maya dwelling. Explain to us the significance of that”
Dr. Anabel Ford: “People, everyday, don’t live temples – I mean – how often do you go to visit the Prime Minister’s Office. So, your daily life occurs in your home, in your kitchen, with your friends and family, and you don’t get a sense of what the Maya did then. And, I hope to take you to the Maya house to show you how the space, it’s more intimate. You could even understand that this could be a reception room. This could be the dormitory; this could be the shrine. It all seems at the size of human.”
The grounds of El Pilar, which was on the way to becoming abandoned by Cayo Tour guides, due to the ever-present fear of cross border bandits, became a lively place yesterday. Visitors were entertained by the musical and dancing excellence of the Sciencia Tecnologia, a Guatemalan Marching Band from Melchor De Mencos.
Also on the celebration agenda, a group of youths ran a total of 7 miles around the grounds of El Pilar as torchbearers to hand over to the Mayan Forest Gardeners. These indigenous care-takers are tasked to preserve the Maya Forest grounds that covers El Pilar.
And that message of peace is particularly relevant, because El Pilar is bi-national by definition, it’s area spans a swath of land that covers Belize and Guatemala.
Hon. Courtney Abel – Supreme Court Justice of Belize: “El Pilar actually sits on on a very interesting site. It actually spans not only Belize, but also a large area – a large sector – of Guatemala, which brings us to a very live topic in both countries.”
But, the archaeologists working here approached the topic perhaps in an overly cautious manner, as if tiptoeing around landmines. They were strict not to deviate from the talking points of peace, almost downplaying the Belize/Guatemalan angle. We got the sense that speaking of the ongoing cross border relations – which have recently been controversial – is sort of taboo, and could endanger the good archaeological work at El Pilar.
Dr. Anabel Ford: “This cultural treasure is treasured by all humanity, whether you’re from the United States, whether you’re from Mexico, or Guatemala or Belize, this is the Maya Forest, and everyone Believes that the Maya Forest has great value. We need the biodiversity.”
Cynthia Ellis Topsey: “All of you who have taken the time to come here, we want to congratulate you for facing your fears. Because many times, we don’t want to come into some of these sites because we are afraid. Afraid of the weather, afraid of the road, afraid of many things. So, we want to give thanks if you’ve taken the time to face and overcome whatever fears that you may have. The point is that there is no problems. Researchers research anywhere in the world. So, Dr. Ford does research on the Belize side, and the Guatemala side, respecting the laws of both countries.”
But, those complex politics aside, Dr. Ford and her team have been successful at cultivating a working relationship with the Tourism and Culture Ministries in both countries, all in an effort to further the development and preservation of El Pilar.
She and the professionals around her want to leverage those friendly partnerships in archaeology to help foster another element of confidence building and peacemaking.
Dr. Anabel Ford: “Wherever you go in the world, we have lots of things that are shared, and everyone has talked about nature shared We breath the same air; we have the same trees, but why can’t we look at culture, and have peace through archaeology? And, El Pilar is the place we want to see that happen.”
Lloyd Gillett – Former Brig. General of BDF: “Anabel has turned this question around. And ,instead of asking, how do we protect these treasures during conflict, she’s saying, ‘how can we enhance peace through archaeology?’ And I think that’s a very beautiful question, and we should commend her on trying to solve this protracted problem of destroying antiquities by thinking of how we can enhance peace through archaeology.”
Hon. Courtney Abel: “Archaeology doesn’t have borders. The borders that existed in the past, might not be the borders that exist in the future, and in the present. And, there cannot, in my view, be limits placed on archaeology by borders. So, that peace is very much, as I understand it, a prerequisite, almost a necessary condition for the existence and survival of archaeology. And, in a sense, El Pilar is symbolic of that. Now, I’m not meaning to be political here, and I don’t think I am, because peace can never be political. It’s got to be something that we’re all striving for.”
John Burgos – Executive Director, BTIA: “What you see today as El Pilar, it gives us a good sense of accomplishment, and we must be able to recognize and acknowledge how far the efforts have come.”
After the ceremony, visitors took a tour of the Belize portion of the site. As you saw in our story, both police officer and BDF soldiers provided security for the over 100 persons who attended.